Monday, August 27, 2012

OHT and Pumpkin Holler

Me (left) and Will (right) at the OHT trail head (S. McFarland)

Ozark Highlands Trail
Over the last couple of weeks I have had an opportunity to get out to a couple of spots for the first time. That's one of the aspects of trail running that I really enjoy. It's like being a kid again in many regards. Wondering what you will see over that rise in front of you or around the next turn. As the baby steps back continue and my legs slowly return I feel more comfortable venturing further out into the world again. 
First up was a section of the Ozarks Highlands Trail with fellow NWA Goats Shannon "Ewe Turn" McFarland and Will "Insert Nickname Here" Blanchard. Yeah, Will is yet to earn a proper one yet. The OHT is 165 miles of Ozark goodness stretching from Lake Ft. Smith to Woolum. There are some "new" sections extending that distance out to 218 miles but the standard course is accepted as the 165 mile "old trail". Somebody, who shall remain anonymous, had mentioned a possible go at the FKT currently held by Jenny Foster of 62 hours and 25 minutes. That's legit folks. 
So our plan was to make the short jaunt down to the new Lake Ft. Smith Park and have a go at the route over to White Rock Mountain. We met early and carpooled down. The new park is quite nice. Very different than what I remember seeing about 20 years ago while in college. Right on time we hit the trail head. I hadn't worn a full hydration pack in a long time and forgot how heavy 90 oz of water and all the fixings can be. Good news is that it only gets lighter, right? I saw it as incentive to eat and drink early and often. My plan was to down a gel every 20 minutes and see how that works for me. More on my pack and gel consumption later. The trail quickly drops close to the lake. Perhaps a little too close as we found ourselves off course and practically in the water within the first two miles. A quick uphill scamper through the brush and we were back on track. The first 12 miles were very runner friendly. Yes, it featured the usual collection of rocky Ozark trail with plenty of tree cover and lots of rolling hills. There was one good, warm up climb followed by a steep, technical downhill run before the long climb up. My legs were starting to get tired. I had settled in at the back of the pack just trying to hang in there as both Shannon and Will are younger and stronger than I am. Then we found ourselves off course again. After some recon we found the trail. This is about the time Will, while attempting to read the map and navigate the trail simultaneously, nearly impaled his "man bits" on a fallen tree limb. All I heard was a panicked scream and somebody else laughing behind me. I will save that story for him to tell. And it quickly became an adventure after that. 
Lake Ft Smith (Michael Goad)

If I had paid attention I would have noticed that the further we got from the park the less maintained the trail appeared. Well, it eventually becomes an un-maintained trail. Tall grass, bush, brush, briars and lots of downed trees. At points so thick that we were slowed to a walk. And by that I mean more or less the last 5 miles. You simply couldn't see where you were placing your feet. The briars scratched at my legs, hands and arms. And did I mention the poison ivy? Right. We ran through sections of trail thick with the stuff. Both at ankle level and growing on the trees. I could only hope that I had enough sweat on my body to wash it off. Will mentioned the ice storm a couple of years back had really damaged the canopy and allowed the underbrush to explode. Mix in the exceptional drought over the last two years that limited prescribed burns and we are left with a trail that is severely overgrown in places. The final few miles that included the climb up to the top of White Rock (elevation 2,320 ft) were not enjoyable. I was tired, hot and acting like a Diva. I put it into overdrive and powered (as best I could) to the top. I simply wanted it to be over. I wanted to sit down in the shade. At the last trail intersection I stopped and waited for Shannon and Will and we made the final push together. I haven't been as happy to see a road in quite some time.
There is a caretaker that lives at the top of the park in an old house. There is also a lodge and three small cabins (all available to rent). On the porch of this house is a little slice of heaven. Several hummingbird feeders hang in the sun. I have never witnessed a hummingbird orgy until that day. Dozens of the little rockets buzzing in and out created this pitched frenzy and yet a soothing sound. On one side of the front door is a mini freezer packed with ice and ice cream and popsicles. On the other side of the porch is a mini fridge stocked with candy bars, sodas and sports drinks. All icy cold. It is an honor system. You take something you leave a buck in the jar. Will, always the gentleman, dropped $10 in for us and we got busy. I saw a Yoo Hoo get devoured. I worked a Dr. Pepper over pretty hard myself. Then I grabbed a nearly frozen Gatorade and headed over to a trailer under some oak trees to relax. I removed my shoes, sat back and enjoyed not moving. Eventually we all found our way over to the SSS. That's the "Super Scenic Spot". The short Rim Trail around the top features a number of vista views of the surrounding valley and other Boston Mountain Range peaks. We sat and watched a lone climber work his way up a small cliff face. Not a bad way to end the run. 
The prize at the top

But wait, what is that? That tiny, almost microscopic thing on my leg. Is that a seed tick? Holy $#^%! There were hundreds of them. From my ankles up to my knees. Back to the little house I go in search of a hose. I scrubbed my legs with my dirty socks in hopes of removing as many of the tiny blood sucking critters as possible. I already new that by Tuesday my legs would likely look like a bad science experiment. Now I was positive. And they did. Still kinda do a week later. I had numerous scratches, some nice patches of poison ivy and too many chigger bites to count. I had them all around my ankles, on top of my feet, between toes, my calves, thighs, behind my knees, my waist, my junk, a few on my back and shoulders, in my armpits and even in my belly button. You hear that Ryan? 
Back to the house where a shuttle service is offered for $1 per mile (per person). We jumped in the jeep and headed back to Lake Ft. Smith. Just seconds into our return trip we saw the biggest, fattest, most angry rattlesnake in the road. Better there than on the trail I say. And apparently this was a magic jeep that allowed the driver to navigate faster on gravel roads than on asphalt. Who knew?
The hydration pack I used was the Salomon XA10+3. It functioned OK but I found it difficult to reach the pockets for fueling. The UltrAspire I got to demo in the Tetons was much more comfortable and practical. The Salomon is now for sale. The gel every 20 minutes worked OK. It seems like overkill to some extent and I found it a challenge to stay on track. I did go through one pack of Chomps in place of gels in the middle. And I only drank water, no electrolytes other than a couple of S! Caps along the way. 
In the end, this was one of those runs that allows one to take stock of things in terms of toughness. Am I able to put my head down and power through something that is uncomfortable? Check. Even if I acted like Roseann there for a bit. I got the job done. 

By the numbers: 
17.5 miles 
6,117 feet of elevation change
3,743 ascent 2,374 descent
208 chigger bites
87 hummingbirds
1 very mad 4 ft rattlesnake
1 steroid shot

Pumpkin Holler
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending an organized and supported TATUR training run at the JT Nickel Nature Preserve (aka Pumpkin Holler) outside Tahlequah. Fellow NWA Goat and good buddy, David Newman, extended the invitation. It was a short 1 hour drive to the meeting spot. This coming October will mark the second annual Pumpkin Holler 100 and an always friendly group of TATURs (led by Stormy and TZ) were headed out for some fun in the dirt. The preserve is made up of about 17,000 donated and scenic acres along the Illinois River. It is the largest privately protected area in the Ozarks. Race day will feature a 100 miler, 100k, 50k and 25k options. David is already in for the 100k while I am debating between the 50 and 100k. Likely the former and not the later yet.
The TOTs and Goats at Pumpkin Holler (S. Phillips)

After a short briefing and photo op the groups were set and ready to roll. In the photo above Edward is on the left looking at the ground, David is back row (right) in orange sleeveless shirt, that is me next to him (shirtless but rocking the Rush Running cap) and the Trail Zombie is in front of me in the black shirt.
TZ would lead a group on a 6 mile jaunt while Stormy and Edward would support those of use opting for the longer 20 mile loop. The course is mostly maintained dirt roads (very little traffic) with a couple miles of asphalt towards the middle. We would be covering about half the race course loop before turning back on the road that bisects the preserve to return to the Nature Center. I took my hand helds and my plan was a gel every 20 minutes and water. I did have a small supply of electrolyte capsules. The first 6 miles went by easy enough (mostly a gentle descent) and by then we had seen the support truck twice. They had various trail grub in a tub, plenty of water to pass out and good tunes. Right at the 10k mark we hit truck and the asphalt. Edward commented something about "a fella could really make up some time on this 3 mile section of road during the race if he wanted to" or something to that effect. The seed was planted. Why not? After topping off the hand helds I dropped down to half marathon pace. The road section is rolling hills and, naturally, quite runnable. As I hit the dirt again at the table rock stream crossing the truck was set up and waiting. Somewhere along that 3 miles of road I entered race mode. I treated this stop as a race day aid station, quickly filling my bottles and heading out without little banter. I found myself now in the lead. Training run? Naw. Let's see what these ol' legs have in them today. Maybe show those young whippersnappers a thing or two. 
Shortly after leaving there the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down. The dirt roads quickly turned to running creeks but it felt great. I was ticking off some solid splits before the turn back to the Center but two guys were right behind me. I thought if they wanna catch me they're gonna have to work for it. I just wanted to stay steady on my pace, push the climbs and let my feet go on the descents. By the time I hit the turn at mile 15 I didn't see anybody behind me. And my legs we hurting. I made the turn and scanned the road behind me for any signs of life. Nothing. I knew a hill was coming up but didn't know how long or steep it was. Something told me to respect it though. I slowed the pace just a touch to collect my mojo. The hill looked long and rather steep. Like a slightly larger and more technical version of Crystal Bridges. Since I couldn't see the top I went into power hike mode. I began covering the tangents to reduce distance and the chance of anybody trying to catch me the chance of getting a peek and any incentive. Pathetic how I turned a training run into my own personal race. That's how my mind works though. I wanted to test myself. To push the envelope and be able to take inventory of my mental and physical conditioning. 
I got to the top and felt OK. It was quite scenic up top and the truck had just passed me again. Did that mean someone was catching me? Either way I knew that I would have one last chance to top off the bottles. The toughest part of the hill was about a half a mile long before it began to level out and I started moving more quickly again. By the time I met Stormy and Edward at the truck the sun broke out, the breeze died and I began to feel spent. My stomach, was had slowly headed South was now on an Express. I began to fight the urge to purge. 5k left, just up a small rise, a section of flat road and then the descent to the Center. It would be a tough go for me until I hit the far side of the hill. More glances over my shoulder. As soon as I caught a glimpse of that green metal roof I knew I was good to go. I cruised in to finish my run with a solid time. I sought shelter in the shade and promptly got off my feet. I was hot. Damn hot. And I had dumped my bottles before the final two miles. Bad move as I now had no water. About 15 minutes later another runner made it in, followed by another and then a sag wagon and so forth. I got back up and out to the driveway to cheer on the other finishers.
Someone was nice enough to offer up some Tums for me. That and some cool water helped. As did changing out of the wet shorts, socks and shoes. No blisters, chaffing or even hotspots. I had taken the time before suiting up to liberally apply a coating of Slather by Skin Strong to my feet and toes. It worked. As did the Belaga socks. I had also made a good choice by running sans shirt to avoid the inevitable bloody man-nipple on a humid, warm day. I had kept up with the 20 minute gel routine but it was tough the last hour. I'm not sure if that is gonna work for me. Perhaps if I took in some more "regular" offerings in the first hour or two that might help keep the GI track happier towards the end. And I'm gonna try some antacids before starting too. I'll experiment with that. After getting to my cooler I downed an 8 oz protein shake and again fought the urge to barf. I lost. But only by a little. It was one of those burps with a little vomit mixed in. Before I realized it, simply by reaction, I had swallowed it back down. David just spit his "vurp" out on the ground. He had a sour stomach too. Maybe it was the high humidity and warm temps? I ran in a pair of older Brooks Defyance road shoes. Trail shoes are definitely an option for running out here. Nothing technical or even rocky out here. The race course does not include the hill we ran. It continues around the Preserve before hitting the Nature Center from the other side. 
A big shout out to Stormy, Edward and TZ for taking time out of their lives to support a band of ruffians out in the middle of nowhere running around in the rain and mud. For more info on the upcoming TATUR Pumpkin Holler races click here.It could be quite beautiful that time of year for a run in the woods. 
By the numbers:
20 miles
2,331 feet of elevation change
1,177 feet of vertical gain
1,154 feet of descent
12 TATURS and 2 Goats
8 gels
3 inches of rain
2 peacocks
1 very mangy coyote

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